A mob of young Nigerian Muslim men in Sokoto, stormed the palace of Sultan, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, on Thursday carrying placards that read “Isma’il must die,” to demand the arrest and prosecution of one Isma’ila Sani Isah of Gobirawa area. His ‘crime’ is that he allegedly posted a blasphemous comment against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) on his social media platform on Wednesday.
Few things remain vital news after the first few times they hold the attention of the public as breaking news, the perennial atrocities of the religious are one of those things. No matter how many times you read a headline like, “Mob calls for the death of XYZ for insulting Allah/Prophet Muhammad/The Buddha/Jesus/Cthulhu,” it will always elicit shock and that healthy tickle of surprise breaking news are wont to.
It is a natural response to all things absurd, for us to be baffled by it, prod it for the alien thing it is and ponder why it exists at all.
That was the feeling I got for the first time as a 10 year old by catching snatches of news here and there about the biggest Shari’ah case in 2003 Northern Nigeria – the case of Ms Amina Lawal who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and eventually acquitted on appeal. It was the same feeling I would feel over a decade later in 2020 when I woke up to the news of the arrest of the then-president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, in his home in Kaduna, for insults against the prophet of Islam. Mubarak has already spent over a year in illegal detention for this non-crime ‘crime.’
In the early 2000s as in 2021 with this latest case of Isma’ila Sani, the response of the authorities was not to strongly admonish the mob for its uncontrolled wrath and disturbance of public peace – the latter accusation ironically reserved for peaceful protests demanding for better governance in Nigeria.
The Divisional Police Officer of Marina Police Station, Chief Superintendent M. Y. Maru, attached to the Sultan’s palace, addressed the protesters and urged them to be calm, adding that the suspect had been arrested and being detained at the Criminal Investigation Department of the state command.
Maru said, “We have arrested the suspect. He is currently under detention at the CID office and I can lead your leaders to the headquarters to confirm.”
The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Abdullahi, received leaders of the protesters at the police headquarters and assured them that the suspect would be arraigned before a Shari’a court on Monday.
If you are baffled that rather than admonish the group for their irrational – and honestly insulting to rational Muslims – response to a Facebook post, welcome to the lived reality of millions of silenced rational Muslims.
The human mind is adept at adjusting to new realities however bizarre. And when caught up in the thick of extremist rhetoric in the early 2000s, I learned – from hearing old stories of violent demonstrations that culminated in the death of thousands of people tagged ‘unbeliever/tagut’ – that a barely 10-year-old mind can do nothing but sit with that bizarre reality. Up is down, down is up, nothing is quite what it seems.
I learned to sit with the mind-boggling reality of Islamic extremism in the North from stories of Gideon Akaluka – an Igbo trader who was beheaded when I was just 1 year old. His head was said to have been put on a spike and paraded in the streets of Kano. His story was repeated endlessly around 2000-2003 as an example of what befalls anyone who goes against Allah and Islam. The period was ripe for this story I would otherwise not have come across ever or until much later. Righteous anger was sweeping the North, as the predominantly Muslim population demanded for Shari’ah as if daring the rest of the country to deny them that and see what will befall them.
Whatever calculations the leadership of Northern Nigeria made then is one I may never fully understand, because the picture in the present looks bad for them as well as for everyone – Christians, Moderate Muslims and the irreligious.
Walled off in their mansions and protected by heavy security detail. Gallivanting around the country and the world, never able to settle comfortably at home. Suspending reason to address in the language of unreason the monster they have allowed to grow ever bolder in its unreason. Publicly applauding the irrational while lamenting behind closed doors the descent into chaos we are witnessing. The picture of the modern Northern elite borders on disgraceful, if it isn’t already.
Disgrace is however a price the elite must willingly pay – without a word of complaint – for the lives lost due to their negligence – if not orchestration. And while they pay that price it is important to stoke the heat on them to fix the region their negligence broke into a thousand blood-soaked shards.
It is immaterial if being stern with their following about this perennial irate response to every provocation is likely to endanger their lives.
This is penance for Gideon. For Bridget Abahime. And every single soul – documented or no, who has fallen victim to the brand of extremism the Northern elite nurtured into full gory bloom.